Tuesday 31 December 2019

Ennio Morricone In Conversation

Ennio Morricone and Jonathan Baz


At 91 years old and with a career that stretches back some 65 years, Ennio Morricone is one of the greatest film composers of our time. Much of his music is magnificent, some of it iconic, with his score for Sergio Leone's 1966 "spaghetti western" The Good, The Bad And The Ugly having become one of the most globally recognised movie tunes of all time.

More recent decades have seen Morricone’s scores for  Roland Joffe's The Mission and Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso (to name but two titles) garner virtually universal critical appreciation and only three years ago the composer earned his second Oscar and his sixth BAFTA win, this time for Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. There are of course more than just Oscars and BAFTAs in Morricone's trophy cabinet. Countless accolades pay tribute to a man of outstanding genius who even as this interview is published, is in the midst of composing for Tornatore's next project.

And so it was earlier this year that Ennio Morricone invited me to his home, an exquisitely furnished duplex set atop a luxury condo in a smart Rome suburb. The Maestro’s residence has been built and shared with Maria his wife of more than 60 years and it is a place where the warmth of the welcome was matched only by the fine coffee and stunning city views.

The impression within the Morricones’ apartment was not just that of homeliness (Maria was in the kitchen Skyping with son Giovanni in New York as I chatted to Ennio), but also of a place dedicated to culture and beauty with just a hint of politics too. The furnishings and artworks may have been breathtakingly gorgeous, but the ethos of the place was not one of extravagance, but rather that of talented achievement and quietly-spoken, beautifully assured modesty.

With Fabio Venturi, Morricone’s trusted sound engineer and right-hand man to act as interpreter, Morricone shared some observations upon his life and career with me and as one might expect from a man not only so accomplished but also wise, that he remained throughout the very essence of diplomacy. Not once was any particular individual or movie highlighted for exceptional praise, nor singled out for criticism. Read on...

Morricone’s extensive filmography has seen him score for more than 500 pictures across a diverse range of genres that can range from hauntingly passionate love, through to graphic horror. With numerous composers (including Hans Zimmer and John Williams) together with various "greats" from the rock and pop world citing Morricone as an influence, my first question was how he himself perceived the cultural handprint that his music has left upon the world over the last 60 years. In what was to be the first of many glimpses of Morricone’s profound understatement, a constant virtue throughout our conversation, he simply stated that he places himself at the service of any movie that he is engaged to compose for. With a stark humility, he stated his simple belief that it is solely the responsibility of the audiences listening to his music to form their own opinion as to what mark he may have left upon the world.


Our dialogue shifted from global impact to Morricone’s native beloved Italy. While he has worked for Hollywood studios, often to great acclaim, Morricone’s most prodigious output has been alongside his fellow native Italian filmmakers. Proponents of Italy’s culture will fiercely argue that the composer epitomises L’Italianità – an undefinable yet recognisable aura that stamps “Made In Italy” upon a work of art. Morricone however disagreed: notwithstanding his immense national pride, he was passionate in defining his music as international rather than parochial in its provenance.

Many of the movies that Morricone has scored over the years have included scenes of graphic violence and I was curious as to if he was ever personally troubled or affected by some of the imagery that his music had supported. In a fascinating reply he firstly commented that for the most part he finds himself unmoved by movie violence, looking at the scene and its interaction with his score as simply part of his job. That being said, when he first worked with Dario Argento (the Italian director, famous for his horror and giallo work) he realised the importance of atonality in music that can accompany horrific violence. Morricone strips away the harmony from such moments, analogous in a way to the scene’s brutality being in itself a stripping-away of humanity. However, In a footnote that further defined his savvy genius, Morricone added that where a movie may have been aimed at a more mainstream commercial market rather than for "arthouse" consumption, that he would factor that into his compositions and include more melody alongside the violence. 
And what, in his opinion, was the most gruesome movie that he had scored? The Maestro had no hesitation in telling me that Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1975 movie  Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom had been a project that he had found nigh-on impossible to stomach.


Morricone has lived through massive political change within his native Italy and a question I posed to him was whether his country's changing political landscape over the last nine decades had impacted upon his music? "Not at all" was his swift reply.

Recent decades have seen seismic shifts in how movies are viewed by their target audiences. At the start of Morricone's career, a cinema / theatrical was the only way to catch a film. Since then, more personal screenings be they via TV, or today’s various digital devices have outstripped the numbers of people buying cinema tickets. I asked the composer as to how that change in the way in which movies "are consumed" by modern audiences, may have impacted upon his work? Again, and with a refreshing commitment to artistic purity, Morricone commented that his composition is always driven by the drama either as a script or as acted - and that he is not distracted by mainstream changes in how a movie is ultimately to be watched. 
That being said, Morricone remains acutely aware of a film’s final sound balance and of the final mix between music, background ambient noise and dialogue. We discussed the extent of his involvement in the post-production of a movie's sound, where he indicated that he broadly leaves that decision entirely in the hands of the director. He did however hint intriguingly at one particular project from years gone by (sadly no names mentioned) in which he learned that the director had spent just one day (!) mixing and finalising the sound for the entire picture. His opinion of that project was scathing, although I was left longing for an indiscretion or two.


In 1968 Morricone was to score Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West, a movie for which he has subsequently related that he composed two of the most haunting melodies - Jill’s Theme and The Man With The Harmonica - based solely upon the script and well before principal photography had even commenced or been storyboarded. The score, particularly the haunting soprano line in Jill’s Theme, went on to become one of Morricone’s most celebrated compositions and he spoke briefly about the constraints and indeed freedoms, of writing music for a movie that existed only on paper.

He explained that with a select few directors (including Leone of course), he was able to picture a very clear understanding of a movie's imagery from discussions and early planning. From these discussions, the critical themes of the narrative developed their musical form in ways that were only to be complemented by the finished picture.

The conversation then wandered onto the inspiration he draws upon for the "musical palette" to any particular score? His response was that typically such a palette emerges from his simple following of the filmed story. He will though always think carefully as to how "shocking" he may want a particular score to be. He spoke too of drawing inspiration from his environment and surrounds, relating how in 1995 as he was writing the score for Sostiene Pereira, Roberto Faenza’s political drama about Portuguese fascism, that it was the noise arising from a political demonstration  taking place on Rome’s Piazza Venezia, outside his (then) home, that was to provide the muse for that movie’s music.

Ennio Morricone's BAFTA for The Hateful Eight
Changing tack, the conversation returned to Morricone’s back catalogue of compositions. Modern day directors (most notably Tarantino, in a number of movies over the last 15 or so years) have sampled his previous compositions, incorporating the music into their 21st century pictures. I asked Morricone about the degree of editorial control (if any) that he sought to exercise over such use. 
Morricone expressed a relaxed attitude to how his music may have been used in subsequent soundtracks, but offered a fascinating glimpse into a  cultural “exchange” around The Hateful Eight. The Maestro suggested that while Tarantino had been free to select vintage melodies in his earlier soundtrack compilations, Morricone in turn, had been granted a relatively free hand in composing that movie’s  score. I asked if the movie marked Morricone's return to Westerns to which he replied that he had actually sought to place more emphasis upon the story’s dramatic edge rather than on its Western genre. He was however confident - a confidence subsequently affirmed by both the British and American Academies - that his work fitted the both the screenplay and the photography. 
It is worth noting that when Morricone won that 2016 Oscar, that he became the oldest Academy Award winner ever to triumph in a competitive category. Listen to the soundtrack recording and note the track entitled “Neve” that lasts for 12 minutes - an astonishing length of time for a movie composition in this day and age. Morricone spoke of his personal pride in the movie’s music, describing that track as having an almost symphonic beauty to it and of how he cherished having the rare opportunity to lay down such a score in this modern era of film-making.


As audiences grow to appreciate some of cinema’s more classic scores and with the assistance of 21st century techno-wizardry, there is a growing trend for movies to be screened with the original score digitally erased from the print and replaced by a live orchestra simultaneously performing the movie’s scored backdrop.

Morricone was, again, succinct on this. By all means, he said, go to a concert performance of a score where there may perhaps be subtle re-orchestrations of the work for the purposes of that particular event. However, where the movie is being screened then the music to accompany that experience should unquestionably be the original soundtrack as recorded - he was clear that his scores should never be live-played to accompany a screening.

The interview had taken place in the Morricones’ lounge - but I was curious to see more of the apartment. Chancing my luck upon the warm rapport that had been struck between the genius Italian composer and the curious English journalist, I grabbed the moment and asked the Maestro for a glimpse of “his Oscars”. Beaming with pride, he grasped my arm, escorting me to a staircase that led to his penthouse study. Rarely have I been in such a cockpit of profound creativity, in a room that is a testament to talent. The walls were covered in framed first editions of Morricone’s scores, together with certificates of honour and recognition that dated back to his graduation (first class, naturally) as a teenager from Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory. The shelf of trophies was deafening in its silent tribute to their owner - but in discussing that room and its magnificence with Morricone, all he could say was that he took pride in all his compositions, irrespective of any production’s size or budget or pedigree.

Ennio Morricone - a man whose genius is matched only by his modesty.

With grateful thanks and appreciation to Fabio Venturi and Nanni Civitenga, who made this interview possible. 

Monday 23 December 2019

Curtains - Review

Wyndham’s Theatre, London


Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Rupert Holmes
Directed by Paul Foster 

The company of Curtains

American songwriters Kander and Ebb are probably best-known for creating the smash-hit musicals Chicago and Cabaret. But now another of the duo’s creations Curtains,  currently in the middle of a UK tour, steps into the limelight in London’s West End replacing The Man In The White Suit at the Wyndham’s Theatre until early January. 

With a book by Rupert Holmes (based on an original book and concept by Peter Stone), Curtains is a musical comedy whodunnit which initially opened on Broadway two years after the death of Fred Ebb. When musical actress Jessica Cranshaw, star of Robin Hood and the weakest link in a Boston theatre company, is murdered during the curtain call on opening night, her fellow cast mates and crew are all put under the spotlight as suspects. Enter stage left Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford), who puts the theatre on lockdown while he interviews those under suspicion. A keen musical theatre fan himself, Cioffi soon gets wrapped up in Robin Hood and sets about trying to save the show whilst catching a killer. 

Boasting a unique concept, Curtains is a classic murder mystery which at the same time provides the audience with an amusing look behind of the scenes of a critically-panned musical. With a show-within-a-show concept, plenty of clever twists and turns and humour throughout, Curtains is an enjoyable production sure to be a hit with fans of musical theatre. The soundtrack is pleasing, with toe-tapping numbers like Show People alongside more amusing tunes such as The Woman’s Dead and What Kind of Man? (the latter of which takes aim at critics, and went down particularly well on press night). Unlike Kander and Ebb’s more renowned productions, the songs here sadly aren’t particularly memorable but they’re all performed well by the brilliant cast. The ensemble numbers however highlight both the show and the company’s talent, providing a visual treat for the audience thanks to Alistair David’s spectacular choreography and Paul Foster’s clever direction. The beauty of Curtains is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, packed full of clichés, puns and delightful digs at critics. 

Jason Manford proves likeable and funny as the overly enthusiastic yet charming detective. Carley Stenson shines as Georgia Hendricks, one of the songwriters behind Robin Hood, while Andy Coxon does an equally great job as her ex Aaron, his rendition of ‘I Miss the Music’ one of the more touching moments of the show. Rebecca Lock is fantastic as the tough-edged producer Carmen and it is she and Samuel Holmes who very nearly steal the show. Holmes gets most of the best lines in his role as British director Christopher, delivering his many one-liners with a delightful dose of witty acerbic sarcasm.

Curtains makes for a warm and entertaining musical sure to leave you with a smile on your face and a spring in your step. With dazzling choreography, slick humour and top-notch performances it is well worth seeing this Christmas. 

Runs until 11th January 2020 before continuing its UK Tour
Reviewed by Kirsty Herrington
Photo credit: Richard Davenport

Friday 20 December 2019

A Taste Of Honey - Review

Trafalgar Studios, London


Written by Shelagh Delaney
Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Gemma Dobson, Tom Varey and Jodie Prenger
Arriving back in London from a tour that appropriately started off in Salford, the National Theatre’s revival of their 2014 take on Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste Of Honey makes for a glimpse of Britain’s North that is timely and refreshing. Viewed too, through the prism of December 2019’s General Election, that saw the traditional trade-union and Labour supporting regions switch their political allegiance, gives Delaney’s writing an even more pronounced perception.

Now 60 years old, the play tells a bleak working class narrative of Helen, a single Manchester mum and her teenage daughter Jo, both women craving love, seeking their own “taste of honey”. Jodie Prenger and Gemma Dobson play mother and child and each is starkly brilliant in their interpretations. Prenger’s Helen is as wise and whip-smart as she is needy and lonely. She knows the promises made to her by chancer boyfriend Peter (Tom Varey) will prove hollow, but her neediness sees her pursue the man anyway.

Dobson plays a different game in her quest for comfort and love – allowing herself first to be seduced by Jimmie (Durone Stokes) a black sailor on shore leave, before then forming a powerfully strong friendship with homosexual Geoffrey (Stuart Thompson). But this is 1950s Britain – where neither people of colour, nor gays were accepted by wider society. Speaking with me as the show opened, Prenger commented that while Britain has come a long way since Delaney’s time, there is still some distance yet to go.

Bijan Sheibani’s helming of the piece effectively delivers Delaney’s devastating text. With a three piece band on stage providing a backdrop that only adds to the play’s scorching commentary A Taste Of Honey offers up an unflinching mirror to us all.

Runs until 29th February 2020
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Tuesday 17 December 2019

The Red Shoes - Review

Sadler’s Wells, London


Based on the film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne

Adam Cooper, Stephen Murray, Cordelia Braithwaite

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes returns to Sadler’s Wells three years after it first premiered - and while the score and dance remain exquisite, there is a depth to this ballet that has only matured over time.

This time around, Bernard Herrmann’s score is played live with the ingenious transposition of work from his various movie compositions flowing so seamlessly around Bourne’s creation, that one senses the music could almost have been commissioned for this production.

The movement of course is exquisite in its story of a doomed love triangle that evolves within the Ballet Lermontov. A love blossoms between ballerina Victoria Page and Julian Craster a young composer at the ballet, while throughout Boris Lermontov, the company’s impresario harbours his own lustful desire for Page. Alongside this cocktail of human passion, there is within the tale, The Red Shoes Ballet itself, a Lermontov production that tells of the enchanted/cursed shoes, and the macabre power they can exert over their wearer.

On press night Ashley Shaw played Page, Dominic North, Craster and Adam Cooper, Lermontov with all three impeccable in their bringing to life the tragic romance. As the narrative shifts across Britain and France their dance, and of course the work of their fellow corps of dancers, allows this difficult and disturbing love story to unfold before us. In the 2019 iteration however, the psychology of the story’s underlying emotional complexities is even more vivid than three years ago. Unquestionably dark and yet stunningly portrayed, Bourne captures the gothic horror of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale and imbues it with a believable 20th-century relevance.

Lez Brotherston’s ingenious swivelling proscenium arch remains a masterclass in stage design, as Brett Morris conducts the New Adventures Orchestra with a heart-soaring fluidity. Playing into the new year, The Red Shoes continues to offer an evening of world class entertainment and dance.

Playing at Sadler’s Wells until 19th January 2020, then touring
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Thursday 12 December 2019

Nine to Five The Musical - Review

Savoy Theatre, London


Music & lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by Patricia Resnick
Directed by Jeff Calhoun

David Hasselhoff

As David Hasselhoff steps into the role of sexist misogynist boss Franklin Hart Jnr in Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, the show is lifted to an even higher plane of brilliant musical theatre comedy. Hart is a 2-dimensional shallow monster, and with Hasselhoff stepping up (or down) to the role, the self-deprecation that sees a globally recognised TV star being humiliatingly hoisted around the stage clad only in bondage gear, is quite simply a treat. Hasselhoff has a decent voice too - he still retains legendary status in Germany as a singer - which only adds to the show's fun.  

The audience cheer ‘The Hoff’ on his first appearance - he could just as easily be being booed by the crowd for his character’s despicable antics and attitudes come the final bows - and it is this pantomime aspect that makes an already outstanding show, a perfect night out.

Any successful musical can only be as strong as its book and Patricia Resnick’s 1980s fable does a fine job of creating believable, and above all, relatable issues from her 2-D comic book heroines and villains. Coming from way before the #MeToo era, the sexual harassment and exploitation of the storyline may be played for laughs on stage, and the show’s ending maybe as fantastic as a fairytale, but the laughs are all at the expense of the bad guy(s). 

Caroline Sheen as key protagonist Violet Newstead remains flawless in her leading the company. Natalie McQueen’s Doralee Rhodes - the Dolly Parton tribute character - is equally strong, with Chelsea Halfpenny as Judy Bernly completing the talented trio. It is still Bonnie Langford's harridan Roz who stops and steals the show half way through act one. Langford's tango duet with Hasselhoff, Heart To Hart has the audience cheering to the rafters.

The show is a technical gem. Whip smart dancing, Andrew Hilton’s phenomenal band and ingenious lighting and projections all combine to create a world class night at the theatre.

Booking until 23rd May 2020
David Hasselhoff appears until 8th February 2020

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Jodie Prenger Talks About A Taste Of Honey

Jodie Prenger

Written 60 years ago, Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste Of Honey is an unsentimental glimpse of working-class Manchester, viewed through the lives of Helen, played by Jodie Prenger, and her daughter Jo.

As the National Theatre’s revival arrives at London’s Trafalgar Studios, I spoke briefly with Jodie Prenger, who plays Helen about the role

JB:    Jodie, tell me all about you and Helen.    

JP:    I've said this many times, I definitely don't go for wallflowers, do I?     

I've discovered that the characters I enjoy playing the most are the most flawed, and Helen is flawed, but I find her beautifully flawed.     

I think I find her to be a woman of circumstance, a woman of truth and I've just had an absolute joy playing her. I find it brilliant the fact that the experience I've had in my life with my family coming from Manchester, realising what a struggle it was and knowing that my nan was a woman who used to graft all the hours of a day and then go get her hair done and put her jewellery on!     

So there's that kind of element where it's very relatable to me, and I think that kind of warmth, the humour, the rawness of that era and of that little part in the world that I find really kind of truthful to me. I have just thoroughly enjoyed playing Helen with every inch of my soul. I really have.    

JB:    The play is 60 years old. How do you think time has impacted upon it?    

JP:    Speaking to people at the stage door and they say those issues about race, those issues about homosexuality, those issues about being a single mother back then were so taboo. So much so that the original cast were told where the exits were in case you get mobbed by the audience.    

It was that kind of unknown entity, shall we say. But whereas today, we still deal with those issues, so it's great to bring them up and reflect on them. I mean, back then we had so far to go, but even today we still have a little bit further to go    

It's true, everyone wants their taste of honey. Everyone wants to be loved. Everybody wants to strive. Everyone wants to see the next day and have that a bit of fun in their life, but their circumstances of where they are and their place in time doesn't always necessarily allow that. So there is still that to fight another day, which we all have and probably more so in this day and age than any other time, really.    

Society from 1950s England to now has changed immensely, but we still deal with these issues and we still talk about these issues, and A Taste Of Honey is a show that was written by this extraordinary 19-year-old girl from Salford that hit at the heart because she lived in the very heart of the city. She slept In and breathed Salford, and this is where these people, these characters, slept and breathed themselves. I think when you put yourself in these situations, or when you are in that situation, it's just the most magical place to write because you are speaking from the heart. I think that's what A Taste Of Honey does.    

The play speaks from the heart because we are human beings, and I think that's what Shelagh Delaney created, a masterpiece that caught that capsule of time, but that capsule of time is so raw that we are still human beings and still fight for the same reasons and still love and want to be loved for the same reasons.     

When we were on tour, there was a lady came to see it in Manchester. Then she came back to Birmingham to see it again and told me "I had to see it again. I had to answer my own question," and I think that's brilliant, that's what Shelagh Delaney, the playwright, did.    

I’m from Blackpool, 45 minutes away from where the play was written although I often wonder if Shelagh ever went into my nan's family's laundry or cafe, which were in Manchester.!

JB:    You shot to national fame winning the role of Nancy in Oliver, following the TV talent search I’d Do Anything. Give me a comment on musical theatre versus plays?
JP:    I find entertaining, or the world of entertainment, I should say, exciting. I think if you can push yourself and find ways that you can learn things about yourself ... I mean, in every single show I do, I learn something more about myself through the character or working with the creators or working with a cast.    

Drama on TV is very different to theatrical drama, and I find plays very different to musicals. But I think it's the adaptability that I find really exciting and I find that I learn. I think the thing I love the most is working with a really ... It sounds so soft and it's going to sound like a Miss World speech, but if I've got a lovely company to work with, I just find it extraordinary. I really, really do. I've been lucky so far. I mean, I've met a couple of nutters along the way, but there is not a single one on this job.So I'm thrilled, but it's just great, and working with Bijan and all the show’s creatives has been fantastic. It really has. You always know when you get into a rehearsal room, when you have the first read-through, that's something that's quite magical. You go, "Oh, okay, now I know what we've got here." and that's exciting.

So yeah, it's not necessarily about what I prefer. I think it's about what you can learn and what you can gain and what you get out of a job. I think we are all victims sometimes, slaving at jobs that just aren't working, but I am very lucky in the fact that I just love what I do, really.

A Taste Of Honey runs until 29th February 2020 at Trafalgar Studios
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Peter Andre takes over in Thriller Live - Review

Lyric Theatre


Conceived by Adrian Grant
Directed and choreographed by Gary Lloyd

Peter Andre (centre) and the cast of Thriller Live

For the run up to Christmas, Peter Andre takes over the leading performance in Gary Lloyd's Thriller Live.

Now in its 11th year, this remarkable piece of West End theatre that celebrates the dance and songwriting genius of Michael Jackson continues to pack out Shaftesbury Avenue's Lyric Theatre, cementing Jackson's reputation as the King Of Pop.

This website has reviewed the show in the past - however what makes Thriller Live such a standout evening of entertainment is its continued re-imagination of Jackson's catalogue, and Lloyd's passionate, timeless commitment to the production.

Andre brings a fresh interpretation to his numbers in the show and with the audience comprising not only Jackson fans, but Andre's devotees too, the atmosphere in the Lyric is deliciously charged. There is a unique energy to Andre's delivery of the classic songs that makes for a flawless night out.

Of course and as usual there is a "team" of performers who cover the role of Jackson, and alongside Andre on his debut night, the moonwalking Florivaldo Mossi was sensational too.

Peter Andre continues in Thriller Live until December 22nd
The show is booking until 26th April 2020

Photo credit: Betty Zapata

Saturday 7 December 2019

ABBA Super Trouper The Exhibition - Review

The O2, London


The Arrival room, themed around the 1976 album of the same name

My my! As ABBA Super Trouper The Exhibition opens this week at the O2 there is now a chance to catch a brilliantly curated glimpse into the history of this remarkable Swedish quartet. ABBA's predominantly 1970s song catalogue that has gone on to span both generations and continents, possesses a charm that quite possibly no other band in the history of pop has matched. Simply put, their simply structured songs make people smile. With harmonies and chords that are distinctive yet very singable and lyrics that are as homely and everyday as they are passionate and perceptive.

Curated by Jude Kelly, a woman whose finger has been firmly on the pulse of Western zeitgeist for most of this century, the exhibition opens in a room full of TV screens looping various broadcast clips from 1974 - the year that saw ABBA burst into the British psyche with their Eurovision winner, Waterloo. The recordings will appeal to the parents (or grandparents!) visiting, as commercials, sit-coms, adverts and news bulletins play out contiulously, reminding us of the imminent general election that was, together with the 3-Day Week and continued debate over Europe. Plus ca change...

Working alongside Kelly has been Ingmarie Halling who not only founded but still curates the ABBA museum in Stockholm. Halling spoke to me about her long association with the band that dates back to her having assisted with costumes and makeup in 1975. She told of how her enduring friendship with the foursome means that she is never more than a phone call away from accessing that elusive prop, sometimes even a piano(!), that all contribute to keeping the Swedish museum a continually exciting attraction. 

From the 1974 opening mise-en-scene, the exhibition becomes a time-hop through the band’s history and discography via a variety of imaginatively themed rooms. The Folk Park sets out the band’s origins, while the telephone filled Ring Ring room invites visitors to lift a handset (authentic 70s, natch) and catch a further audio snapshot of the time. 

The exhibition moves on into the Waterloo room, a brilliant depiction of the band’s emergence into fame beyond Sweden and thence into a gorgeously tacky mock up of Brighton Pavilion, the Eurovision host venue that saw Waterloo’s victory. There’s a replica of the contest’s scoreboard from the evening and even a loop of Katie Boyle (remember her?) et al, hosting the ceremony.

All the band’s other albums are meticulously supported with memorabilia- some are huge in their significance such as scribbled lyrics, others perhaps more trivial. The replica of that helicopter from the band’s Arrival album (an LP that in turn spawned perhaps their biggest hit, Dancing Queen) will appeal to many. And for the hardcore fans there is a mock-up of superfan Andrew Boardman’s Manchester front room that he has devotedly converted into a tribute to the band. 

It wouldn’t be ABBA without a dance and so the exhibition’s final hall is a massive, disco-lit dance floor, where with the band playing on screen the urge to dance is irresistible.

The exhibition runs until August next year - and ingeniously not only sells the usual individual or family ticket combos, but mamma mia and with an eye to the money, money, money, there is also a Return Ticket. This allows a maximum of 4 separate discounted visits, for those reluctant to perhaps see their initial experience slipping through their fingers.

Tickets are sold in 30-minute entry slots.

Adult £27 
Adult Return £59 (up to a maximum of 4 visits) 
Child £13.50 (children under 5 go free) 
Family of 3 £54 (1 adult, 2 children) 
Family of 4 £65 (2 adults, 2 children) 
Family of 5 £72 (2 adults, 3 children)  
Concession £22 
Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult 

Tickets available at abbasupertroupers.com

Friday 29 November 2019

Vikki Stone - A Songbird Speaks

Vikki Stone

Vikki Stone brings her one-woman show to the Lyric Hammersmith this Monday 2nd December. 
She and I briefly talked not just about the show, but also about her adaptation of High Fidelity, the American musical based upon Nick Hornby's classic London-centred novel and which Stone has just brought back home to the UK

JB:    Tell me about Monday's show.

VS:    Well it is nice to be able to bring it to the Lyric Hammersmith and send it off in style. The show is called Songbird and it's a piece that I have been touring this year. I've been in Edinburgh with it and Monday will be the show's last performance of this year.

I've made a conscious decision to try and make a show that feels inclusive and fun as I didn't really want anything particularly heavy at the moment. I go to the theatre a lot and I'm watching shows that are heavy into topics and while that's all fantastic, worthy and good, I really wanted to create something that feels like a bit of comedy escapism and is just there to be silly and really fun.

Songbird has often been described as joyous and hopefully it's an evening that, in the very tense times that we are in, proves to be a good old-fashioned, fun night out.

JB:    Has the impending General Election made you vary your routine or the scripts at all?

VS:    No, not really. I've decided that I wanted to feel like my show was an anti-thesis to politics. It's about life and family and loss and about my dog! It is very silly and very funny hopefully to other people's opinions.

And it’s a one woman show too, although I do come on in the first half and mess around a bit as Abanazar, before doing the second half as me!

JB:    You are quite a presence in London at the moment. Currently playing at the Turbine Theatre is the new musical High Fidelity, a show that saw you re-adapting Nick Hornby’s tale back to its Anglo / London roots. Tell me about that process. 

VS:    It was interesting as High Fidelity has been a very unique project and not something that gets asked of me very much. As a writer I was taking a pre-existing musical and a pre-existing book, with the original book having been set in London, but then the subsequent film and musical treatment were set in the States - so bringing it back across the Pond was an interesting job. My first thing was to read the book a couple of times and  listen to the audio a few times so I felt that I was dead familiar with the source material. 

When I started to add scenes or add language, most of the time it was original stuff from Nick Hornby and not actually from me. I wanted not only to remove some of the American references, but also some of the dated material. Dated in its portrayal of women, in the portrayal of the female characters and the protagonist’s attitude to sex - all of which was stuff that wasn't in Nick Hornby's original novel. 

There was a fair amount of  resistance to some of my changes that I really had to fight for. We were talking over e-mail with the licence holders and who were then taking it the writers. Not so much Tom Kitts, because the music wasn't really changed at all but with Amanda Green and David Lindsay-Abaire. It was a process that went on way after press night as we fought our corners but it has all now been resolved. 

It was quite touch and go as to whether or not we'd really be allowed to do what we wanted to do with it. There were original American lyrics about “a real go-getter, in a thrift store sweater” which the writers didn't want to change it and I was like, but we just wouldn't say "thrift store" as it immediately takes the show out of where we are. Similarly referencing "autumn" as "the fall" where again I'd say we just do not say that, it's not in our language. Even though we understand the fall, we've all seen American movies, we just don't use that phrase. 

I had to make a case for a lot of things, but I can understand this because David and Amanda had spent a lot of time and effort and years of work into making the musical, only for us to come along and go, "we're changing that, we're changing this". I can understand why they were so protective over their material.

But I am very pleased with what the English version of the musical has become.

Vikki Stone can be seen in Songbird at the Lyric Hammersmith on Monday December 2nd. For tickets click here

High Fidelity runs at the Turbine Theatre until Saturday December 7th. For tickets click here

For my 4* review of High Fidelity click here

High Fidelity - Review

Turbine Theatre, London


Music by Tom Kitts
Lyrics by Amanda Green
Book by David Lindsay Abaire
Lyrics and book adapted by Vikki Stone
Based on the novel by Nick Hornby

Oliver Ormson
In a transatlantic shuffle that was to first see Nick Hornby’s novel cross the Atlantic for an American themed film and subsequent musical theatre treatment, in a feat of skilled creative collaboration the narrative is dragged back to its North London roots. In the show’s opening return to Blighty this re-iteration proves to be a glorious night at the theatre.

The show premiered on the USA stage in 2006. This production, itself the first musical to be staged at Battersea’s new Turbine Theatre, has been lyrically adapted to reflect a London setting. Much credit is due to Vikki Stone for delivering a text that fits both time and place.

Taking its plot from Hornby’s 1995 novel, the show revolves around Rob, the owner of a small vinyl record shop on the Holloway Road at a time when the digital march of CDs had rendered vinyl pressings into obsolete collectors’ items.  Rob is a louche lothario, yet to discover emotional fidelity and notching up sexual conquests yet failing to grasp the concept of committed love. Laura is his most recent girlfriend and the show opens with their splitting up. Through a series of clever vignettes and occasional flashbacks we not only glimpse their relationship’s decline but also, as an uplift, see Rob’s redemption to a state of decency too. It all makes for a tight and clever journey.

The strengths of this production are many. Kitts’ melodies are inspired, drawn from across the spectrum of the rock and pop scene, with tunes that set out to pay homage to various music stars across the years with the nod to Bruce Springsteen proving particularly well observed. Likewise, the unexpected lyrical partnership of Green and Stone offer moments of carefully drawn pathos along with well observed hilarity. David Shield’s stage design captures the geeky, sweaty, “unwashed single male” ethos of a specialist record shop, while Andrew Exeter’s lighting plots neatly and imaginatively enhance the Turbine’s compact space.

Leading the show and on stage virtually throughout, Oliver Ormson is Rob. There is a steady voice to Ormson’s work as he also brings the right level of smouldering good looks to the role to justify his tally of past sexual relationships. Ormson also captures the role’s complex combination of testosterone fuelled lust and envy together with, ultimately, compassion. As Laura, Shanay Holmes brings vocal strength to an emotionally demanding role that sees her weather a number of credible misfortunes in the course of the show’s arc.

Memorable too are Robert Tripolino’s incense-fuelled Ian, Eleanor Kane’s Marie, an American country singer who finds herself washed up in London’s N7, together with a brilliant pastiche of The Boss (aka Springsteen, see above) from Joshua Dever.

Tom Jackson Greaves directs and choreographs with an ambitious flair. The dance numbers are fun and detailed, with the inspired excellence that underlies the second act’s Conflict Resolution having to be seen to be believed. The precision movement and design of that song’s delivery is quite possibly the funniest ever delivered on London’s fringe musical scene. Up above the action, Paul Schofield’s 4 piece band are a polished treat.

High Fidelity marks the arrival of an exciting new musical theatre venue to contribute to the capital’s railway arch theatre scene. It is well worth a visit.

Runs until 7th December
Photo credit: Mark Senior

Wednesday 27 November 2019

& Juliet - Review

Shaftesbury Theatre, London


Music and lyrics by Max Martin and Friends
Book by David West Read
Directed by Luke Sheppard

Miriam Teak Lee

& Juliet is a new musical inspired by a Shakespeare classic and the back catalogue of one of the 21st century’s smartest songwriters, Max Martin.

David West Read has taken 30 Martin numbers – remember that the composer, who also co-produces, has written for most of the recent giants of the global pop music scene – and around them, woven a story that explores Juliet’s potential to have become a powerful and dynamic leading lady.

The show’s narrative may be slight but its twists and turns keep the audience hooked and the piece engages with its classic references that display an imaginative wit matched only by an outstanding cast and creative team. Miriam Teak Lee takes the title role, convincing in her chic interpretation of Juliet complete with powerhouse vocals, while alongside her are some of musical theatre’s strongest performers. David Bedella compels as Lance, while Melanie La Barrie’s Nurse, Arun Blair-Mangat's May and (cover) Dillon Scott-Lewis’ Francois are equally sensational.

Luke Sheppard directs with his hallmark visual flair that lends itself so well to such a music and dance driven story. Jennifer Weber’s whip-smart choreography is thrilling, with Soutra Gilmour’s typically provocative design work, lit by Howard Hudson, combining romance with excitement. Dominic Fallacaro’s nine piece band deliver an electrifying pulse to Martin’s melodies.

Suitably woke and with a nod to issues of both gender and sexuality, & Juliet is that unique musical that fuses classic English literature with the modern classics of pop. It’s a fun night at the theatre.

Now booking until 30th May 2020